Talking To Your Partner About Your Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Having a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) can be hard enough, having to talk about it with your partner can be even more difficult. When is the right time to share this information with your partner? How do you share this information? What do you need in return from your partner? Though having the conversation may feel awkward and uncomfortable, it is a necessary conversation that you will feel better about once you’ve had it.
There are certain factors that may lead into the awkward feeling of disclosure. One factor may be that you feel stigmatized now that you have an STI. People tend to have negative stereotypes about people with STIs, despite STIs being extremely common and nondiscriminatory of race, gender, sexual orientation, or age. Your fear may be that your partner will have these stereotypes. This may lead into a fear of your partner not wanting to date you, shaming you, or violating your privacy by disclosing your situation to others. You may also feel like it is too early to have such a personal conversation with someone who you don’t know very well. Finding the best time and process to disclose is important. What might work for you now, may change over time as you change. Disclosing an STI can be scary; using these techniques can help you create a safe space for both you and your partner.
In a perfect world, your partner will be 100% supportive of you and work to validate your experience. Your partner is human, too, and will most likely have a reaction. You must be confident in yourself and not look to your partner for support. Your STI affects both of you. Your partner may not have the space to support you if they too are having a reaction. They will have a reaction.
You may have feelings on your own, which do not involve your partner. You may feel ashamed, guilty, or embarrassed. Unfortunately, society has put these stigmas on STIs. These feelings can silence you from disclosing to your partner. First, you have to trust yourself and gain inner self-awareness of your own needs. Understand that some partners may choose to leave after your disclosure. With that said, if your partner chooses to stay, disclosing to your partner can help manifest a strengthened relationship through honesty and trust. You open yourself up to the opportunity to feel supported by your partner, and give support to them. You now have the space to be able to talk about and process these feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment with your partner.
Explore how and when you’d like to disclose to your partner, or potential partner. Do you want a time that is nonsexual or right before you’re about to get sexual with your partner? Do you want time to hash everything out, or do you want to make it quick, with no time for processing? Does it matter to you what kind of mood you and your partner are in? Do you think it’s best for you to be under the influence of drugs and alcohol as you tell your partner? Some people may find it easier to tell their partner via telephone without eye-contact, or text/email. Do you put it on your online dating profile? Is it assumed? There are dating websites specifically for people with STIs. Where do you want to have the conversation? Do you feel more comfortable one-on-one in a quiet room, or in a group setting with multiple people around you ?
Once you have created what you deem to be a safe space, it is now time to disclose. What do you say? A few helpful statements to start the conversation off are: “I really care about you and I wanted to make sure that we are both safe and healthy about our sexuality…” “I really enjoy spending time with you and want to make sure that I stay honest with you…” “I value you as a partner, so I wanted you to know that…” If you are not ready to have a big discussion with your partner, as you may not know them very well keeping it simple like “I think tonight will be fun but you should know that I have… we should use a condom or some type of barrier protection.” Or, “I want you to know before we start that I have…, which means we should use a condom or some type of barrier protection.”
Allow your partner to have their reaction. As you want a safe space for yourself, create that safe space for your partner as well. Allowing for them to feel comfortable to disclose their feelings about the matter. Be open to what they have to say, while also being cognizant of your feelings while they are reacting. Work to have an open conversation where everyone feels that they have gotten their concerns out in the open and their needs met. Realize that your partner my not share their feelings. They may end the relationship or leave and never talk to you again.
If your partner has a negative reaction, that is okay. Think back to when you first found out you had an STI, it may have taken you a little while to grapple with the idea. Give your partner time, as well. Your partner may also be reacting to information that is not accurate that they heard from other sources. Work together to make sure that you both have all of the correct information about your particular STI and what it means for the two of you. Reassure your partner that you are committed to making sure that the two of you stay safe and continue to have a pleasurable sexual experience.
Disclosing you have an STI can make you feel vulnerable. Using these tools can help you to feel closer to your partner . You will may also feel stronger as an individual. Continue to get tested and encourage your partner to do the same. If your STI is something that is lifelong, continue to stay educated on what is out there to help you treat your STI. And keep in mind, STIs are just one of many ‘negatives’ in a relationship. Partners could have debt, a medical illness like cancer, crazy parents, a demanding work schedule, be emotionally unavailable, have a sexual dysfunction, etc. Some people might consider an STI a benefit. The STI makes them safer to disclose their baggage. They might have respect for your courage and feel empowered to open up to you in return.